For the first time in history Brazil has entered the group of countries listed in the United Nations' High Human Development Category, even though it is still far from the level of other developing nations, such as Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Cuba and Mexico.
This information is part of the 2007/2008 Human Development Report, published today, November 27, in the Brazilian capital Brasília by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
To the UNDP's special advisor, Flávio Comim, the Brazilian government should regard this unusual situation as both a milestone and warning.
"Symbolically, it reflects an effort that was carried out, but it is also an invitation to rapidly define strategies that may allow Brazil to reach the same level as the Latin American countries that remain ahead," he said.
The figures in the report are based on consolidated data for 2005. On a scale from 0 to 1, Brazil scored 0.800 in the report, the minimum index considered as high development. The index for Iceland, the country that leads the ranking, is 0.968.
The improvement was driven by growth in specific sectors, which was detected based on the revision of calculation methods. In real terms, life expectancy increased from 71.5 years, in 2004, to 71.7, in 2005. Per capita income saw a US$ 77.00 rise, from US$ 8.325,00 to US$ 8,402.00.
A positive highlight for Brazil, according to the document, is the fact that the country's school enrollment rate (87.5% of the population aged up to 22 years is enrolled) ranks among the world's 36 highest.
Despite the advances, in the overall human development ranking, Brazil went down from the 69th to the 70th position. The country ranked higher than the Caribbean island of Dominica, and was outperformed by Saudi Arabia and Albania, which made more significant advancements in education and life expectancy, respectively.
Flávio Comim lists five aspects to be prioritized: reduction of poverty, of inequality, of child and mother mortality, and expansion of public sanitation, which is present only in 75% of the country. The child mortality rate is 99 for each 1,000 children born alive among the 20% poorest (an index typical of African countries).
But the greatest enemy of human development in Brazil is income inequality, according to the coordinator to the UNDP report, Kevin Watkins.
"Average income in Brazil is seven times larger than in Vietnam, but the 20% poorest here have a lower income than the ones there," he exemplified. The average income of the richest Brazilians, according to the UNDP, is 21.8 times higher than that of the poorest.
Despite the exceptions, Watkins, as an international observer, recognizes that the Brazilian income transfer program such as Bolsa Família – Family Voucher and Bolsa Escola – School Voucher have already started reducing extreme poverty and favoring the most needy.
"In the last four years, with new public policies, Brazil has been proving itself capable of combining growth and income distribution. But there is much more that can be done. The well being of a country is measured by the condition of its population, rather than by the size of its GDP or exports," he stated.
To Watkins, the key requirements for achieving more significant results in terms of human development would be improving distribution of lands and credit, collecting taxes more efficiently, and increasing the participation of the marginalized population in the formulation of public policies.
The Human Development Report is translated into more than 100 languages, and published annually in more than 100 countries, since 1990.